By Segun Odegbami
Until two weeks ago, Europe was the preferred destination for migrants from most parts of the world, especially Africa. It was considered the best part of the world to live and to work in. Hence the ceaseless global migration to the region.
Two weeks ago, bored with the peace, Russia’s Vladimir Putin deployed some 170,000 of his country’s ‘idling’ troops to invade Ukraine, one of the former colonies of USSR (larger Russia) in a new ‘war game’ to halt Ukraine’s ‘independence’ of romancing and fraternising with an ‘enemy’ (USA and NATO) with which Russia has an umbilical, mutually self-destructive relationship.
To the layman on the streets struggling to survive, this is already too complicated, a distraction, and makes no sense at all.
That’s how Russia pre-meditatingly unleashed on the world a real threat to global peace, and pried open real possibilities of a new World War that could bring the present civilization to an end, should things get out of hand.
Already, these past two-weeks have been but a ‘dress rehearsal’ of a potentially bigger war, producing one of the worst refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War. Things can get even uglier.
Western Countries and several others around the world (subtle actors behind the scene) have risen in unison to condemn the unprovoked invasion, and are introducing varied and massive sanctions against Russia, hurting the country’s economy, its industrial machines, several of its Oligarchs, and so on, actions intended to humble Putin, bring Russia to its senses, or be crippled.
Whilst all these have been going on, and all international media have joined the global propaganda machinery of the warring parties, they have seemed like a planet away on the streets of most capital cities across the African continent.
The events in Europe pale in significance and are remote from Africa.
The matter of a few Africans in Ukraine caught in the crisis, adding a notch to the number of refugees streaking out of the war zone and seeking refuge in neighbouring European countries, hardly makes any serious news on the continent. The joke, instead, is that most of the Africans would rather remain in the embattled European zone than return to the trauma of a worse existence in the African continent.
There is a disconnect between the hardened and victimized people of Africa and the rest of the world on the issue of global conflicts and crisis. The African has been steadily dehumanized by almost 500 years of ill-treatment. Seeing how the present world systems are NOT designed so that Africa, the African and his descendants would prosper and become equal partners with all others, the continent has more than enough of its own internal crisis to deal with than to be overtly focused on a ‘chicken-war’ between two ‘spoilt and pampered’ countries of Europe.
Africa has even done well by the verbalized diplomatic support by a few African countries, including Nigeria, at the United Nations.
Otherwise, the continent has graver challenges to deal with than to be concerned about White Europeans destroying and killing each other in Europe, creating a flood of refugees that are given a free passage through the war zones, easy entry into all neighbouring and even distant European countries, and welcomed with warm embraces to new environments. Even where the battles are to be fought are identified and calibrated between the combatants. Compared to what happens and is happening in Africa, it all seems like children at play.
Take what is happening in the Horn of Africa for example. These are several bloody and protracted wars that have been going on for decades in the region killing and displacing millions, destroying the lives of millions more in over 10 African countries, leaving the fragile economy of that whole region in tatters, and creating millions of refugees swarming across the continent like bees in a ceaseless flood, wandering with nowhere to go to, and no welcoming parties by any neighbouring (or distant) countries to receive suffering women and children.
Even the conflicts in ‘the Horn of Africa’ draw little empathy, attention and support from any part of the world, not even from amongst the Africans themselves.
Such is the level of dehumanization and traumatization that have taken place through the decades, numbing the senses of ordinary people across the African continent. If they cannot even react to their own crisis, how are they expected to react to what is happening in far away Europe, a place that, even at war, easily is the ‘paradise’ of choice for them.
Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, former President of Nigeria, and now, Special envoy of the African Union to the Horn of Africa, saddled with the responsibility to resolve the conflicts, halt the wars, and find lasting peace, lamentingly revealed that in all the months that he had worked in the region, mediating amongst the warring factions, not one African leader had called to inquire about the state of affairs, to offer assistance or support on how to halt the conflict and start to heal the deep wounds in that ravaged, savaged and abused part of the world. That’s how bad the reality is with Africans.
It is, therefore, understandable that as the world’s attention has been on two ‘rich’ countries in Europe going to war over some ‘nonsense’, Africans have been subdued in their reaction…until their nest was stirred.
This last week, the battle field in the Russian invasion has been moved farther afield to include a part of human activity that is usually considered sacrosanct, one not to be polluted with all the other human vagaries of religion, geography, status, race, or even politics.
The moment Sport was added to the weaponry, and deployed, the Russian/Ukrainian conflict assumed a new dimension. The attention of Africans has been immediately drawn to the conflict. From the streets of Cape Town to Cairo, from Dakar to Aden, Africans have joined in the conversations on the crisis.
As soon as Sport became a part of the sanctions introduced to ‘punish’ the oppressor, in bars and restaurants, on the sidewalks, on the streets and even in the local media, new conversations started. Chelsea Football Club and its Russian owner, Roman Abramovich; Daniil Medvedev and the global army of tennis follower; a ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes from international competitions; the threat to ban the two countries from the FIFA World Cup; and so on. Sport has taken centre stage in African discourse on the invasion.
These soft-tissue sanctions by the international sports fraternity have woken up a taciturn Africa, stirring and steering the continent away from its own pain onto the theatre of the European crisis.
That is a clear demonstration, once again, of the power of Sport across the world, how Sport reaches deep, touches the human mind and provokes the human spirit to action.
The essence of this examination of the power and potency of Sport is not to identify the guilty party in a conflict, or apportion blame, or to pass judgements on which side is right or wrong. It goes farther than that.
The success of sports events in the midst of the worst global crisis and calamity is a reminder of how sick the earth is and how Sport can provide a window into a curative medication.
Sport provides a new and different ‘prescription’ for healing the world. The buttons of global relationships must be re-set to focus on friendships, freedoms, collaboration, healthy competition, equity, justice and a level playing field at the heart of every act of man.
Sport places these at the heart of all its core values and practices. Sport shows daily that all men can co-existence peaceably in genuine friendship. It just requires exploring that area of human activity and deploying its power and potency creatively to steer the world to a better place.
This, here, is a small voice in the wilderness of despair, calling on all nations of the world to come together, reach deep into the fabric of LOVE (not FEAR) and demand a halt to the Russian Invasion of Ukraine. The world must deploy Sports and Diplomacy, not as punitive weapons, but as models of healing and new possibilities.